A One-Two Punch

Two, 90-minute Netflix “documentaries” have knocked the wind out of my sails, leaving me ailing and wailing about the unfairness of it all … and that there’s little I can do to create constructive, creative, proactive change.

The Social Dilemma (highlighted and linked in an earlier post here) focuses on the giants of technology – Facebook, YouTube, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, and others – with former supervisory employees and critics of these companies sounding the alarm.

What began as helpful “tools” for our personal space and productivity have evolved into manipulative, psychotic platforms that know more about us than we do about ourselves … including how much time we spend looking at a given image, what we supposedly #Like or makes us #Angry (and other designated reactive emotions) … and that, instead of tools for creating personal products, we ourselves have become the product. Based upon our digital DNA, we are being sold – with “how-to-use us” instructions — to the commercial and political marketplace.

Two take-aways that struck me quite personally, which I can’t seem to shake, are that: (1) Each of us is fed distinctly different news, comments, posts, replies and reactions, and (dis)information based on the sum total of what this artificial intelligence knows about us; and (2) Because of these algorithms, we only are able to reach like-minded people in sync with our personal data. All of our posts with distilled information and links for fact-checking – designed to reach others with different views, opinions, and perspectives – hardly ever reach our intended audience.

The brazen abuse and manipulation by these social media are chilling, frightening, and but a harbinger of what’s yet to come.

Starring Meryl Streep, the other Netflix docudrama that blew me away is The Laundromat (linked below). This is the story of how the rich, indeed, are very different from the rest of us … using shell games and companies to cheat, steal, manipulate, and get away with murder. Literally.

In response to these two Netflix films (along with my own observations and personal experiences), I am making some deliberate changes to my online habits. First and foremost is distancing myself from the worst players.

Here’s what that means for my own use of Facebook, as well as the other social media giants … especially as they relate to maintaining my own sanity and balance:

I will no longer post proactive positions about climate change (evidenced by the hottest weather ever on record, expanding forest fires that cannot be contained, fiercer and more frequent hurricanes devastating people and property, torrential rains and flash floods that take incredible tolls … typhoons and tsunamis, earthquakes that are shaking our very foundations, and the resulting pollution that is suffocating us). Because the climate change deniers believe what they do; nothing I can say will change their beliefs; and my posts probably won’t be reaching them, anyway.

• Similarly, I won’t be posting about dealing appropriately with Covid-19 (mask-wearing, social distancing, testing, avoiding large gatherings—especially indoor), for the same reasons. Not only has this pandemic been politicized, polarizing us yet further … but just as too many are climate change deniers, certain segments of the population are totally anti-vaccines.

• And, for the same reasons, I will no longer continue posting about Donald Trump, Trumpsters, and Trumpism. If his cultist fan club refuses to recognize and acknowledge the travesties he’s committing – and getting away with – in “real” time, right before their eyes, they are choosing to do so. My words and sources will neither engage nor convince them. “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless,” states Proverbs 14:16.

Other behavioral changes I will try my best to make vis-à-vis Facebook and other social media include:

Not responding to “click-bait” suggestions of posts and people or groups which algorithms – based on my online behavior – recommend that I check out and consider.

Limiting the number of #Likes I post. After a friend thanks me for wishing him or her a happy birthday, there’s no need for me to #Like that #Like!  It’s far easier for Facebook to identify and quantify my emojis than to qualify any comments I may make.

Refusing to allow myself to fall down the rabbit hole. How many times have I read something of interest, then clicked on its link, pouring through post after post feeding my concerns and insecurities, while venturing farther into the quicksand?

Reviewing and refining my #Friends list. “Unfriending” someone seems so nasty and final; but I’m asking myself, “Who are these people? How do I know them? What kinds of interaction or communication have we engaged in since becoming #Friends?”

Deleting some of the Pages and Groups I have joined or liked. Look at your personal information: How many groups did you join that you really no longer participate in … or Pages you liked because you’ve been asked (by a FB friend or the Page itself) to #Like it?

Not giving any more personal or professional information to the social media. I don’t need to publish my cv or resume in my profile. (While I can delete some of the profile information I have already provided, the titans of social media already have saved everything I ever shared—despite my deletions.) I’ll be moving forward ever more cautiously.

Disengaging from the social media by spending less time there and using it for more constructive purposes. Yes, there certainly are some definite positives about our use of the Internet to engage with others. But, let’s be honest: Haven’t we become “conditioned,” like Pavlov’s dogs, to respond to the sounds of online alerts, alarms, and attention-getters?

Now, here’s a link to Netflix’s The Laundromat:

www.netflix.com/title/80994011

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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What’s App?

Three major players dominate the digital communications landscape in Portugal: MEO, NOS, and the UK’s Vodafone.

We have a MEO “package” w/Internet, TV, landline and mobile phones. The service has been excellent and the rates reasonable: €49.90 per month for high-speed broadband Internet + “cable” TV with 190 different stations + a mobile phone + a landline. How much would Comcast, Spectrum, Time-Warner, et al in the USA charge for a similar package?

Anyway … overall, we’d been very satisfied with our service and bills.

Until we tried calling outside of Portugal.

A friend from the UK — who spends lots of time in Spain with us – had told us that, within the EU, all phone calls now are “free” … without additional charges. Regardless of which country your phone belongs to and what country you’re calling.

But only sometimes, it turns out …

We made phone calls from both our land line and mobile to the UK, Spain, and even France.Then we received our MEO bill, loaded with charges for all these calls (and messages) outside of Portugal.

We took our bill into the nearest MEO loja, where the helpful customer service rep explained (I think) in Portuguese, “Only calls from cell phone to cell phone are free within the EU.”

Our Brit friend didn’t buy that, telling us it’s bloody rubbish.

“I use my O2 phone in Portugal, Spain, etc. I don’t get charged for any calls I make to any phone that is in the EU, irrespective of where I am (as long as I am in the EU),” she said.

Evidently, O2 is the main UK mobile phone provider. Those with 02 can use their phones anywhere in the EU for making calls or sending data and pay no charges. But, if they had Portuguese phones, they’d be charged for data outside of Portugal, and phone calls to non-Portuguese phone numbers.

OHHHHHHHHHH … so that’s why our UK friend wasn’t being charged for her calls anywhere within the EU: Her OK phones are 02s!

Nevertheless, we made certain to use only our mobile when calling outside of Portugal. Like yesterday. We briefly called a number in Badajoz, Spain.

Immediately, we received a text message from MEO stating that our account had been charged for that call.

Back we went to MEO.This time, the helpful customer service rep drew us a picture. According to him, the new law about “free calls within the EU” refers only to roaming: If we take our Portuguese mobile phone to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, or wherever … and we call any Portuguese number, it’s free. But, regardless of which phone we use — mobile or land line — if we call another country from our Portuguese phone (number), we will be charged because it’s considered an “international” call.

“We have UK mobile phones with UK mobile phone numbers and we can call anywhere within the European Union at no charge–free!” insisted our British friend. “That’s what the new law is about!”

Yes, but only with 02 phone-provided numbers.

Mind you, we’re not complaining … we only want to understand the rules. And to color within the lines!

So, we sought additional advice.

We learned that what EU law has changed is applicable only to mobiles and, then, only when one is “roaming”; i.e., using your Portuguese mobile phone when in Spain … or your Spanish mobile in Portugal.

In addition, the calls aren’t free; they are charged at the same tariffs you would pay when on your home network. Unless you purchase an “enhanced” package of benefits, when at home in Portugal, you would pay for all international calls and texts not included as free in your plan.

“The best thing to do is to use apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger when calling or texting internationally,” suggested someone more-in-the-know than moi. “They are completely free … whoever you are speaking to and wherever they are.”

Some telecomm plans offer incentives for international calling. “I am with NOS and get free calls to all European landlines from my landline after 9pm and all weekend,” the same friend continued, “which is great, as my technophobe mother of 78 does not even own a mobile phone … let alone know what an app is!”

Actually, I am right there with his mother. It’s my partner who has the mobile and makes our calls (or sends the texts). Five years ago, I killed my cell phone by throwing it against the wall and then stomping on it. Bringing the plastic bits and bytes back to the company where I purchased it, I informed them that, “When you offer a simple class showing dumb old men like me how to use these new-fangled smart phones, just ring me up!”

On my land line …

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Sermon: Beauty and the Beast

In his book The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, Peter Rollins tell us that, “Religious writing is usually designed to make the truth of faith clear, concise, and palatable. Parables subvert this appraoch. In the parable, truth is not expressed via some dutsy theological discourse that seeks to educate us, but rather it arises as a lyrical dis-ourse that would inspire and transform us. In light of this, the enclosed parables do not seek to change our minds but rather to change our hearts.”

Here is “The Invisible Prophet,” one of my favorite topsy-turvy parables told by Rollins:

It is said that when God sent one of the greatest prophets to earth, the devil was so terrified that people would heed her message that he hatched a plan to ensure that it would never be heard. He decided to conceal her message as best he could. He looked far and wide for a hiding place that would be so impenetrable, so concealed, that no one would ever hear it. After a long and difficult search, the devil finally found the perfect hiding place: he concealed the prophet’s message in beauty.

When the prophet finally began her ministry, people would gather around to witness her legendary beauty and elegance. She moved with extraordinary grace, and when she opened her mouth the words sounded as if they had been carefully crafted by some divine poet and sung by a choir of angels.

When she spoke, the crowds would reverently murmur, “Isn’t she beautiful?” “How elegantly she moves,” “What grace and splendor she has,” and “What majestic poetry she crafts.” The great painters would sketch her form, and the poets used her as a muse. The critics would delight themselves in her carefully crafted words, and the sculptors would turn to their marble.

Her message was a difficult one, telling of an impending tragedy that would befall the earth if the people did not learn to love the planet, to live simply, to turn from selfishness and embrace humility. She proclaimed that whole cities would be leveled if people did not learn to love once more without limit, without return, and without borders.

Though celebrated as poetry, the prophet’s cries of condemnation were not heard. Her beauty and elegance eclipsed her message, until both she and her words disappeared entirely beneath her voice and form.

So it was that the people moved towards their destruction with dancing and celebration, with eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear. Focused on her bountiful beauty, the wisdom within remained hidden through the ages.

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The “New Normal”?

Repeatedly, I’ve heard these words (^^^) used to describe the way we’re living now—especially the uncommon behavior(s) we’ve adapted to and adopted.

Trouble is, they’re neither new nor normal.

Despots, disasters, and debacles have a long history of turning our “standard operating procedures” into inappropriate behavior and questionable conduct.

It hit me the other day when I saw almost everyone in our immediate vicinity, as well as images beamed from across the globe, wearing facial masks–which is a good thing!

Except for those who refuse to wear them.

Because, like so many other matters, masks have become political statements of which side you’re on. Basically, it boils down to “You’re not the boss of me; you can’t tell me what to do” vs. “Please, people: it’s not about you, it’s about public health and the greater good.”

Yeah, right. Try convincing conspiracy theorists that their preferred sources of news and information are either confused, conflicted, or callously (and covertly) compromised in spreading their own versions of reality for certain reasons, ends, and purposes.

And all those alternative visions are producing a feeding frenzy for the media, where each and every tidbit is taken and shaken as utterly imperative “Breaking News!”

The media feasts on food for its fodder.

Enter Donald Trump, the most unpresidential president imaginable. What he gets away with – what he says and how he says it – is bone-chilling, along with the rest of the characters in his lackluster, blockbuster cast. Besides the vast number who’ve been told, “You’re fired!” many (if not more) have left – resigned — of their own accord to escape the lunacy. Let’s not forget the enablers, too: domestic politicians and money snatchers, complicity conspiring with international intrigue imperiling our democracy, fragile as it is. Or the terrorists, insiders and out, with little regard or respect whatsoever for our sanctuaries.

Talk about thickening plots …

Isn’t it weird that stock markets are soaring to their highest levels ever, when 30 million Americans aren’t working and can’t buy food for their families or pay for the roofs over their heads? Yeah, I know: they’re betting that the future will be better by far than the past. How many people are still collecting – or applying for –unemployment paychecks? Or scratching subsistence from food banks and the largesse of others? How is it that so few have so much, while so many have so little? Why is it that some people hate immigrants (who pay taxes), but not billionaires who don’t? Isn’t that, too, riddling the new normal?

When did it become about keeping folks out of the USA, rather than welcoming them in? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” speaks not about the rich or the elite, but the wretched, despised, and despairing. Children separated, yanked, from their families and kept in cages like captive animals. Rather than bulding walls, we should be opening doors and creating sanctuaries.

Atlas shrugs and havoc reigns.

Has there always been so much selfishness and hatred blowing in the wind? Or, are we yet a generous and good-hearted people?

We’re used to political party put before principles. Now, however, we have angry pretenders preceding both parties and principles. Follow the leader, you know, no matter how crazy.

It’s happened before … when times weren’t “normal.”

If it isn’t politics and protests, then there’s the weather. Crazy, climate change weather with uncontainable fires, scorching heat, flash-flooding rainfalls, the Everglades drying up as the Amazon burns, earthquakes, more frequent hurricanes, monsoons, typhoons, tsunamis.

Our increasingly endangered wildlife bespeaks species disappearing while they’re hunted for personal pleasue and stolen for keepsakes. Meanwhile, we continue to dump toxic waste into waters already bloated by plastics and packaging.

Which is why some fault our overindulgences, lack of care to protect the environment, and continuing dependency – guns for gas – on non-renewable energy sources as the biggest and baddest “new normal” of all … except, of course, for the pandemic.

Corona virus. Covid-19. But not the “China” virus.

“COVID-19 has me obsessed with how close to death I am, at tables set up in the street, in roaring traffic, with only a flimsy plywood partition between me and a brutal, bloody finish,” posts an articulate friend online. “I just don’t sit in the avenues, only the cross streets; it’s safer …” Yeah, let’s hear it again for the new normal!

It’s not normal – neither new nor usual – for contradictory information to be flying around, with statistics and sound bites. Whether it is what it is or isn’t lacks definitive answers or a common denominator. That’s senseless and stupid. Not to mention confusing (I just did!).

Like sending children to school in the midst of this crisis. Or hanging out in bars. Or not nationally mandating mask-wearing and social-distancing. Or participating in round-em-up rallies. And who’s going to take the vaccine (when it’s available) and who’s not, after all?

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small …”

Nor is it normal for artificial intelligence, like Facebook, to know more about our personal lives than we, ourselves, do. Not only are the so-called “social” media collecting every last lick of our digital DNA, but they’re using the data to determine what we do and where we go from here … selling our most intimate “psychographics” to any and all bidders.

Endless squinting at tiny mobile screens when people gather, close enough to look deeply into each other’s eyes and share elbow-kisses. But they prefer immersion in their digital devices over face-to-face contact. It may not be new, but it sure ain’t normal.

There are some who contend we’re actually living in the realized visions of Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies. Whatever. To me, it feels like we’ve either stepped through the looking glass, down the rabbit’s hole, where Cheshire cats and “Off with their heads!” are the norm … or that we’re inhabiting Twilight Zone nightmares from which we can’t shake off the sandman’s dust.

Insanity.

But only if we truly accept this as “normal.”

Let’s face it: totally abnormal is what it is, instead.

Please don’t cry for me, America … or Portugal and Spain, for that matter. Let’s wail for our world and work together to fix it, returning us to a real sense and semblance of normal.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Presidents and Precedents

Since my public school days, I’d seen a president assassinated, the murder of his assassin, and the capture of his assassin’s assassin … all reported by the media, often “live” on our black and white TVs.

Later, I saw that same president’s brother assassinated as he, too, campaigned to become our country’s number one man.

I’d seen a Democrat – from Texas yet! – inherit the presidency, but decide not to seek another term because we had become so deeply entrenched in a war triggering marches on Washington and uprisings at campuses across the country (where students were shot dead by “first responders”).

I’d seen a president and his vice-president, both disgraced by scandals, resign from the two highest offices in the land.

I’d seen our first “unelected” president, when a guy-next-door congressman – but not the Speaker of the House – succeeded his predecessors.

I’d seen a well-meaning peanut farmer from Georgia elected president, a decent and truly Christian man, relegated to the back burners of history … remembered more for his brother’s beer than his own accomplishments (which finally are being realized and accredited).

I’d seen a beloved, second-rate actor become president and be shot (along with others) in front of our televised eyes … and, yet, despite the outcry, no real gun controls were effected.

I’d seen a father and son each elected president—the first for a single term, the second for two;

I’d seen a president selected by a partisan Supreme Court when the votes were so close and the election errors so many that day after day, week after week, a “winner” still couldn’t be called.

I’d seen a likable boomer – one of my own generation – impeached while in office because of alleged improprieties dealing with questionable real estate transactions and this president’s penchant for women, including consensual sex with a young intern whose stained, blue dress immortalized the evidence of his infidelities.

I’d seen the first black man elected President of the United States, yet denied his rightful responsibilities during eight years of impasse with a do-nothing Congress.

And I’d seen the first woman nominated to be our country’s commander-in-chief … only to be trumped by a lying, cheating, tax-evading, bankrupt, conflicted con man who abused and took advantage of people, denouncing them daily with tweets and promoting a helter-skelter agenda of favoritism to the rich.

Flabbergasted, flustered, and furious, I began asking everyone who’d listen a series of “since when” questions.

# # # # #

Since when:

• Did the executive branch of our government become so authoritarian that the legislature cowers instead of confronting the mess (or rushes off to retire with its ill-begotten gains and lifetime pensions)?

• Did members of Congress become “leaders” of this country, rather than representatives of the people who elected them … as if we were mere pawns in some preconceived, haphazard game of high stakes chess or roller skating championships?

• Did it become all right for nepotism to be an acceptable way of governing this country, where non-credentialed family members wheel and deal with emissaries from foreign countries for personal gain right there on site in the White House?

• Did it become legitimate for subordinate staff and aides to claim “executive privilege” and refuse to testify before Congress and/or its designated special investigators?

• Did we become a people who cheer – whose religious leaders bless – malicious, slanderous, hateful, and divisive words of a toxic, laughing stock president and his henchmen?

• Did our country stand alone, apart from the rest of the world (especially our allies and trading partners), in such critical matters as climate change, first-strike warfare, trade wars and economic tariffs … all based on the nonsensical ramblings of one man whose ignorance is only surpassed by his ego and arrogance?

• Did we have such a revolving door of executive and administrative staff – ambassadors, advisers, agency heads, justice officials – coming and going … due, in large measure, to firings or their fear of being associated with criminals and/or criminal offenses?

• Did responsible statesmen so deliberately ignore and refuse to investigate multiple alleged crimes and charges of injustice against a lifetime judicial nominee, so as to effectively rush through the confirmation of a new justice with dubious standards and questionable morality? Especially when that judge will serve as jurist in a potential trial of high crimes and misdemeanors (including treason) committed by the man who nominated him?

• Did our principal international nemesis (Russia) become a country whose leaders and politics are coddled and colluded … or where independent “back channels” between the Kremlin and White House are surreptitiously planned by players from both regimes?

• Did our government cater exclusively to the richest 1% of the country, while denying the other 99% even scraps from the banquet table?

• Did the administration in power benefit and take so much in personal pursuits and paranoid pleasures … a country whose president spends one-third of his time playing golf, a third tweeting or watching TV, and another third grand-standing before his base?

• Did it become legal to ambush trillions of dollars in new debt a year for tax cuts to appease the already privileged and patrons … only to warn that Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs we were required to pay into must be minimized?

• Did our chief executive dedicate himself with such glee to so swiftly and unilaterally dismantling myriad social welfare and infrastructure programs that guided and protected our people, basically to strike his predecessor president?

• Did it become acceptable to acknowledge – without corrective measures – that more than two-thirds of what a president says are proven lies?

• Did money so effectively dictate the rules of the realm, rather than the voices and votes of the people?

• Did the legitimate, mainstream press – always considered the fourth pillar of government – degenerate into an “enemy of the people” … while hurried and bizarre social media platforms became the pedestals for fake news and alternative realities?

• Did we end becoming a melting pot of diversity, benefiting from the talents and hard work of immigrants seeking to contribute to a better life?

• Did democracy despair and break down in the USA?

# # # # #

Since when did all these heinous things happen in a country birthed by liberty, freedom, and justice for all?

Since November 2016, when Donald Trump was (s)elected president and commander-in-chief of this hitherto generous, gallant, compassionate country … although some will maintain that planning for much of this usurping had been long in the making—by a complicit Congress, curtailed court system, and conspiring officials, whose patrons pull their (purse) strings … to divert attention from their back room back-stabbing. And by too many people who should know better, but prefer to gloat in their deplorable despair and disdain.

We lived in a place and time where – by and large – our elected representatives are beholden to their patrons, rather than to their constituents. They answer to no one (except themselves and their keepers) and exempt themselves from the rules that they make.

We lived in a place and time where the disparity between the income of corporations and their executives is radically beyond the grasp of working people. And, yet, despite all the loot the rich have accumulated and stashed, it’s not enough.

So, our Congress was intent on denying the safety nets ordinary people depend on, while giving even more money to those hoarding what they already have.

We lived in a place and time where our legitimate mainstream media, hitherto the bastion of freedom and justice, had been summarily dismissed and replaced with alternative facts, truths, and realities. Yellow journalism and slanted nonsense were held above our responsible press.

We lived in a place and time where political gerrymandering had corrupted our Electoral College such that twice – twice! – within a generation, the people’s choices for president were overruled and citizens denied their right to vote.

We lived in a place and time where we were isolated from the rest of the world, often the brunt of its jokes. We were the only nation in the world not to sign on to global environmental protection agreements and accords. We vacated our promises to trade with, protect, and support other countries (which now question whether we can be trusted anymore).

We lived in a place and time where moneyed people against public education, investment people who caused our near financial collapse, opportunistic people who inflated the prices of critical medicines, energy executives who knew naught about diplomacy, hunting advocates, and people whose memories failed them on imperative legal matters, were now running the very government offices they had hijacked … but scientists and otherwise knowledgeable people were forbidden — ostrasized — for speaking truth to power.

We lived in a place and time where a destructive, conflicted, ignorant, narcissistic, self-serving, delusional, degenerate man believed that his own, private empire should benefit from the country’s public business. Because, he believed, he was above the law.

We lived in a place and time where some of us signed petitions, wrote letters to editors and our representatives, made calls, knocked on doors, used every technological advantage to speak our hearts and minds, march on occasion, gather for community and committee meetings … but our representatives declined to address us.

Indeed, we lived in a desperate place and time.

What kind of desperate measures, if any, should we personally be taking?

Each must do what we believe best, according to our own particular situations, strategies, and peculiar circumstances.

For us, the decision was to leave.

We will always consider ourselves American citizens, register and cast our votes in USA elections, care about the land where we were borne.

But to intake and inhale this poisonous venom, a contagious cancer that has spread across the United States and, through it, the world?

No!

Internalizing the strife, we were grief-stricken, mentally exhausted, spiritually drained, and physically disabled.

The time had come for us to move on …

We would emigrate from the USA and become immigrants in Europe.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Prologue

About 15 years ago, we purchased a small “vacation bolt” in a typical town in southern Spain, where we’ve spent months each year enjoying a different way of life. Later, we added a property in a small Portuguese village where we now live—about a six-hour drive, door-to-door, from our home in Spain.

On March 25, 2017 we departed our country of birth to live in another.

We no longer reside in the USA, but divide our time between Portugal and our home-away-from-home in southern Spain. Yet we still are citizens of the United States and care (cringe?) deeply about what’s happening there. We have chosen — deliberately — not to be embroiled day and night with all the atrocities, crimes, and conflicts of the Trump administration which has divided the country, estranged families, stolen from the people, alienated us from our allies, poisoned our environment, and brought us time and again to the brink of unthinkable disasters and carnage.

# # # # #

My heart continues to cry for the beloved country and I will express disgust and rage at those who claim to represent us but actually profit and privilege from their perches.

I don’t regret the moves we made.

All things considered, our lives have been enriched by knowing people from all walks of life throughout the United States and around the world. Social media conveniently bring many together, enabling us to cross-pollinate the people and places we’ve known over the past 50+ years: high school classmates, college alumni … and dearly beloved friends in New York, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Spain, and Portugal.

We now face challenges of a different sort here in Portugal, the world’s third most peaceful country (following Iceland and New Zealand) and, reportedly, the friendliest and most popular one–especially for immigrants and expats.

In essence, we started from scratch … finding friends, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, hair cutters, food, and our way around … all in a language we couldn’t yet speak or quite understand. We needed to learn how to slow down, to enjoy the simplest pleasures of life, and trust that tomorrow will bring its own promises and priorities.

Thank you for taking part in our journey.

As “they” say, it’s not the destination – but how we get there – that matters most.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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An Exceptional Language: Portuguese, La Lingua Franca

Unfortunately, Portuguese was never one of the languages offered in most USA schools.


Spanish and French, yes … with some of the more upscale schools including Latin (or Greek) – even Russian! – in their curriculum.


Mas não português.


So, most of us opted for Spanish or French.


Even a limited knowledge of Spanish, especially, can be both a help and a hindrance — a mixed blessing — to learning Portuguese.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Portuguese derives from Spanish or that peering into Portugal’s language portal through Spanish eyes is what learning Portuguese is all about. Many people have difficulty understanding and speaking Portuguese (though reading it is somewhat easier), not just because of the vocabulary and syntax, but — especially — because of its pronounciation. But, once our ears are attuned to the sounds and rhythm of the language, there’s a nasalized beauty in the poetics of Portuguese.


The communications professor in me wants to know about a language and understand what makes it tick. Peering through the peephole of Spanish, because it’s my familiar tongue, I try to unpack the mysteries of how the Portuguese language works—and why.


But my Spanish also causes obstacles, hurdles, and stumbling blocks. People constantly remind me that I’m thinking – and talking – in Spanish.


When I speak Portuguese, it comes out sounding like a Spanish mish-mash.


“Fala português … não espanhol!” my Portuguese friends admonish and encourage me.


Intent at understanding the “why” behind the language, its psychology, the rules governing its syntax, I’ve embarked on an ambitious adventure to analyze Portuguese, at least as the language relates to Spanish … arriving at a number of “Eureka!” findings in the process.


Some rules hold true rather regularly between Portuguese and Spanish. For instance:


• An “n” in Spanish is usually an “m” in Portuguese, while the Spanish “ie” is simply an “e” in Portuguese. Examples: una/uma … con/com … en/em … diez/dez … sin/sem … tiene/tem … bien/bem … abierto/aberto … también/tambén … alguien/alguem … siempre/sempre … tiempo/tempo … invierno/inverno … fiesta/festa;


• That “ny”sound (as in“canyon”) signaled by a tilde over the “n” (ñ) in Spanish is much the same in Portuguese, with words having “nh”letters: viño/vinho … señora/senhora … español/espanhol … baño/banho … leña/lenha;


• Although also used in Portuguese – most frequently over the letter “a”(ã) – the tilde produces an entirely different (nasal) sound: João … cartão … educação … manhã … não;


• The “ue” diphthong in Spanish becomes an “o” in Portuguese: luego/logo … puerta/porta … puerto/porto … puede/pode … fuego/fogo … fuerza/força … escuela/escola … cuenta/conta … suerte/sorte … juega/joga.


• “O” in Spanish is often “ou” in Portuguese: poco/pouco … otro/outro, while the Spanish “l” often becomes an “r” in Portuguese: plato/prato … placer/prazer … plaza/praça;


• “U” in Spanish can become “ui” in Portuguese: mucho/muito … at other times, instead, it becomes an “o”: gusto/gosto … punto/ponto;

• The double “ll” in Spanish often translates to “ch” in Portuguese: llave/chave … llama/chama … lluvia/chuvia … llegando/chegando;


• Words beginning with “h” in Spanish often switch to an “f” in Portuguese: horno/forno … hacer/fazer … hablar/falar … hijo/filho … harina/farinha … fugir/huir … hablar/falar … harto/farto;


• When you see a word with a “çao” suffix in Portuguese, it probably ends in “ión” in Spanish: relação/relación … informação/información … edição/edición … habitação/habitación;


Confused?


Wait, the questions keep coming … and we haven’t yet touched upon tenses and sentence structure:


It’s “bom dia, boa tarde, boa noite” in Portuguese, but “buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches” in Spanish. Why are the day’s divisions plural in Spanish but singular in Portuguese?


When does “dia” end and “tarde” begin, anyway? Why, after 12:00 PM, of course, you say? Maybe technically. But people in Portugal generally believe that “tarde” begins after one has eaten lunch. But what about “noite”? When it becomes dark … or after eating dinner?


And why are the words for “day” spelled the same in Spanish and Portuguese, while only Spanish gives it an accent mark (día)?


Spanish, like most Latin-derived languages, names the days of our lives: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo. Except for the weekends (sábado, domingo), Portuguese, instead, numbers them: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira.


But don’t confuse “feira” (market, as in market days) with “feria” (fair, market, and often, holidays) or ferias: vacation.


Thankfully, many words are identical in both languages: “casa,” “porque,” “tal|vez,” “médico,” “viajar”, “comprar,” “poder,” “vida” … and even “de nada,” to say “you’re welcome.” So, how come cats are cats – “gatos” – in both languages, while a dog is “perro” in Spanish but “cão” in Portuguese? And, for goodness sake, how did “gracias” become “obrigado,” every foreigner’s favorite Portuguese word?


Pronunciation and accents are other matters entirely, as Portugal uses almost every accent mark in existence—and then some! How can anyone other than a native enunciate clearly the subtle differences between “pais” (parents), “país” (country), and “pães” (breads)?


Similarly, verb tenses and conjugations differ in the two countries of Iberia. For instance, consider so-called “reflexive” verbs. More often than not (although not always), their order is reversed: In Spanish it’s “se vende, se trata, se llama,” while in Portuguese we get “vende-se” and “trata-se,” but “se chama” … except when asking a question, used in the negative, and other exceptions: “Se vende a casa?” “Como é que se chama?”


Here’s where turnabout between the Portuguese and the Spanish isn’t necessarily fair play: Some Portuguese people understand spoken Spanish, because they grew up watching Spanish TV.


Spanish people, however, have a hard time understanding Portuguese. Some say that’s a matter of choice, not of ability.


As for me, I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing “Puxar!” on a door and pulling rather than pushing!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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The Americanization of Iberia

We’re eating lunch in the food court at one of Castelo Branco’s largest shopping centers. With a dozen or so eateries in a semi-circle filled abundantly with tables and chairs, eateries abound: churrascarias (bbq), fish, soup and sandwich, Italian (pizza & pasta), kebabs and gyros, burgers, ice cream, pastries, and other desserts.

Our favorite is a Brazilian steak house where, for €4.90 – about $5.50 – you can get a grilled flank steak on a roll with a side salad, bowl of soup, French fries, and your choice of beverage—wine and beer included. Other meals are comparably priced. All are served on real plates and dishes, with flatware and drinking glasses.

But many of the Portuguese eat, instead, at the Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, or McDonalds next door … tapping digital buttons to order food and then waiting for their LED numbers to flash, summoning them to pick up bags with disposable contents.

Meals at these American franchises typically cost more than Portuguese food.

Hamburgers, chicken, pizza, and sandwiches, of course, are international foods, unlimited by American influence. It’s how the food is cooked and served – slow and savory or fast and furious – that makes all the difference (along with the type and quality of products used).

Why would anyone want to eat such assembly line food with “paper” plates and plastic utensils, when so much better is available in the very same space?

It got me thinking about the influence America – the USA, in particular – is having on Portugal and Spain in Iberia. Is that still called “imperialism?” Good, bad, or indifferent, the USA has affected Portuguese and Spanish cultures in many ways:

• Language. As American English differs from the British, European Portuguese and Spanish differ from their Brazilian and Hispanic cousins. And American lingo is increasingly taking root in both languages. English – accented by American English, by and large – is mandatory learning in Portuguese schools, from elementary grades through secondary school. English speakers seek to practice their Portuguese; but as soon as we open our mouths with mispronounciation, the Portuguese reply in excellent English. Daily, more American expressions and words are imported, even though native words already exist: “take-away,” and “tênis” (sneakers) … along with many other words of common usage: “marketing,” “workshop,” “brownie,” “cupcake,” “low cost,” “cheap,” “check in,” “designer,” “email,” “blog” “clic(k),” “check up,” and “yummy” are just a few examples, along with the universal gadgets and widgets of technology.

Media. If you watch TV’s The Price Is Right or America’s Got Talent, you’d best take their Spanish and Portuguese equivalents with a large dose of salt! As for cinema, we get first-run American movies here upon release. Soundtracks are hilariously dubbed in Spanish, while shown in their original English with Portuguese subtitles.Heck, there’s even Netflix.es and Netflix.pt. American music – current and oldies – is quite popular on much Iberian radio … until interrupted periodically by Catholic masses and Hail Marys broadcast in their entirety.

• Money. Plastic is preferred over cash—especially during the pandemic. Although Americans reach for their credit cards, the Portuguese and Spanish are more likely to use debit cards so as not to incur further debt. The ATM was invented by a Brit (not the Yanks), but their use is everywhere today. In Spain, you can withdraw and deposit money, pay bills and even traffic fines at an ATM. Portugal’s “multibanco” machines do even more! They’re so smart, in fact, that they don’t deem cash withdraws – where we’re assessed fees from both the dispensing and our home banks – as such. (Not so with Spain’s ATMs.)

• Medicine. Although universal health care is the birthright of all Spanish and Portuguese citizens (legal residents in Portugal, as well), locals often opt to supplement their public health care with private coverage. There’s quite a difference (in price!) between the USA’s and Iberian medical plans. While the cheapest and least inclusive health insurance policies can cost thousands of dollars per month in America, comprehensive health care insurance in Portugal runs about $150 per month (all-inclusive) for two people–one 70+, the other almost 60. Spain, too, offers the option for foreigners residing there to buy into the country’s national insurance or purchase comparable coverage through private market insurers.

• Urbanization. How are you going to keep them down on the farm? The Portuguese lament the loss of their younger, educated population who flee the small villages of their birth to elsewhere … other countries, as well as bigger cities in Portugal, where employment opportunities are more plentiful and the proverbial “rat race” appears to be exciting. Buy, sell, spend, borrow, bigger, better … more! After a while, however, keeping up with the Joãs takes its toll. Like the city mouse and the country mouse, there’s a pronounced distinction between city dwellers and their more provincial relatives, with natives dividing lifestyles as either city or country (campo).  Increasingly, however, the Spanish and Portuguese experience that yearning, the “saudade,” to return to their roots … tilling the soil and enjoying a more peaceful, tranquil, less hurried and hectic lifestyle. Wherever the location, however, for those looking to buy or rent property, there’s a local office of the Re/Max, ERA, Century 21, and Keller Williams real estate networks.

• Technology. The globalization of technology certainly can’t be limited to the United States. But silicon valleys across the country are the forbearers and creators of our digital world. The most popular mobile phone in Portugal and Spain? Apple’s iPhone.The preferred computer? Apple’s iMac. The ubiquitous operating systems and tools of computers? Microsoft’s. The go-to search engine? Google. The most popular social media platforms? Facebook and its WhatsApp. The best known computer chips and graphic cards? Intel.

Nevertheless, ignorance and belligerance — byproducts of American polarization — are finding friends in Spain and Portugal. Chanting “freedom,” hundreds of people rallied in Madrid last Sunday in to protest the mandatory use of facemasks and other restrictions imposed by the Spanish government to contain the coronavirus pandemic. And in Portugal, one of the countries most successfully intent on containing and crippling the virus, we are impressed with the fortitude and compassion displayed by the Portuguese people.”It is not perfect here,” states an American expat living in Lisbon. “The police need to enforce mask rules (occasionally meeting violent resistance) in some ethnic ghettos, but the city is trying to increase communications and messaging in those neighborhoods and incidents are rare.” In southern Portugal, “most are following the rules, but still get too close at the grocery, leaning in or reaching around. On the boardwalk, tourists don’t cover when they cough and sneeze.”

American outreach has cribbed many inroads to territories Spanish and Portuguese.

T-shirts glorify alleged American icons and phrases, while shopping carts are filled with brands such as Heinz, Tropicana, Listerine, Johnson & Johnson, Old Spice, Colgate, Oral-B, Coca Cola (and Pepsi), Kellogg’s, Finish, Raid, Vaseline, Woolite, Hellman’s, Vaseline, Dove, Bic, Purina, Pedigree, and Friskies (among others) … outpacing the national ones.

So be it.

But if and when Walmart arrives here, it will be time for us say “bom día” … and “Adiós.”

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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What Do You Call It?

The Portuguese have a word for it.

English really doesn’t.

You can’t define it; to truly understand its meaning, you’ve got to experience it.

It’s different than depression, distress, disillusionment, discouragement, despair. It’s wistful and wishing for the way things were … and ought to be … but aren’t anymore.

Although “melancholy” probably is its closest cousin in English, it’s much more than that: a longing, yearning, aching void.

It’s the heart swelling up and crying out inside. It’s a lump in the throat … anxiety attacks … a feeling of foreboding … brooding … bleeding internally … unable to heal the hurt.

It’s a slow burn about the utter unfairness of it all … coupled with an irresolute resolve to go on and make it through yet another day–despite the turmoil, trespasses, and travails along the way.

It’s caring so much and coping so continuously that we’re overwhelmed and exhausted, unable to do much more than sigh as we watch the world go by(e).

It’s abject and deject, anguish and agony, feeling victimized and caught up in an elusive web of betrayal beyond our control.

It’s something for which, elsewhere at another time, they’d prescribe mind-numbing drugs, psychotherapy sessions, and therapeutic confinement.

It’s sort of like the Yiddish word “Rachmones,” whose translations – mercy, compassion, empathy, understanding – don’t come close to what we actually feel when recognizing the trait in a kindred spirit: Namaste.

It’s a voice heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

It’s hiding in Anne Frank’s attic, knowing full well what the future holds.

Yet, it is part of the song and dance that are our lives.

The Portuguese sensitize these doldrums and call them “Saudade.”

For me, it’s a dark cloud hovering over us as I await what’s beyond … looking away and staying inside without precious connection to others … hoping it will pass sometime soon.

I feel like a psalmist, pleading with the Almighty to allow me to be joyful, yet unable to understand how and why we’ve become such drained and divided fragments of our fabric.

Then I remember that verse: “ … weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

So be it.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Elbow Kissing

People here take the virus seriously. Very seriously, indeed.

Wherever we go in our Spanish town of Olvera in Andalucía, folks have masks dangling, half-mast, from their ear lobes, ready to pull them up to cover their mouths and noses as soon as the shadows of others are seen approaching.

That’s outside, on the streets.

Elsewhere, the masks are also facial appendages. Little old ladies sit and chat with covered faces, night after night, on benches in the tidy little park at the bottom of Calle Campillos, where Olvera´s former post office had stood, replaced years ago with this quaint oasis in the midst of row houses zig-zagging as they bend and stretch up and down the narrow, steep street.

Across the border in Portugal, little old men sit on knee-high walls surrounding their village churches, pontificating about this or that (as is their nature). It’s difficult enough to understand their dialects under the best of conditions; but, with mouths muffled by máscaras (mascarillas in Spanish), it’s even more challenging to decipher their staccatoed opinions and argumentative crescendos.

Even the youngsters – from toddlers to teens – understand the seriousness of the moment, responding without usual rebellion when told to step back, stay away, come inside, don’t touch, wear their masks.

These are people, entire populations, who barely survived under severe lockdowns for three or more months. They’ve seen death and the toll Coronavirus can take, up-close-and-personal. So, they´re now bound and determined to do whatever they can to ensure they and their communities aren’t again victimized by the virus.

Now, they take Covid-19 damned seriously.

To promote social distancing at restaurants, cafés, and snack bars, Olvera’s local government has granted special dispensations to eating venues and watering holes, allowing them to squat on public space: either grassy land nearby or by cordoning off four or five asphalt parking spots and dedicating them to diners.

After all, this is a café culture where people relish food, drink, and companionship … with wine, coffee, cola, and beer.

Nobody – employees, delivery personnel, clients, customers – enters a shop (large or small) without wearing a mask. Sanitizer is plentiful everywhere. Plastic gloves are often available, sometimes required (in groceries and markets), other times not—but recommended. Cosmetologists and stylists apologize for having to raise prices by fifty cents to pay for the plastic booties and robes clients are required to wear. And, woe to the supermarket customer who dares to inch beyond the designated markers! You may be allowed to put purchases on the conveyor belt … but you’ll be warned to wait until the previous customer has completed paying and packing, before advancing. The one person per elevator (lift) rule is respected, as is a minimum meter distance on escalators. Waiting rooms, as elsewhere, maintain two empty seats between each available one. Spitting on streets is strictly prohibited and enforced by one hundred to one thousand euro fines.

Throughout the Iberia peninsula, Covid-19 isn’t a matter of personal politics or in-your-face freedom fighters; rather, it’s actually about personal hygiene and public welfare: the common good.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that everyone here is a sanitized saint, dutifully and willingly following the new “normal” rules for social interactions. Just the other day, in fact, I observed a woman in one of our favorite supermarkets picking up plastic packages of pastry, squeezing them, and putting them in front of her (masked) nose for a sniff. She picked up and put back at least a half-dozen packages. Not that she was malicious, but simply self-serving and negligent, not thinking about the potential consequences she was causing to others. I caught the eye a store associate and nodded at the woman. Without hesitation, the supermarket employee approached the offender and gave her a lesson she’ll not soon forget about appropriate protocols for grocery shopping.

Nonetheless, such experiences are exceptions to the rule.

By and large, we live among demonstrably caring, emotional and “affectionate” people who share their feelings with hugs, handshakes, and serial kisses on both cheeks. Not now, however. Instead, we poke elbows … laughing about how silly (but serious) such a greeting seems.

Elbow kissing doesn’t come close to sharing a good, hearty hug.

And that’s what really, truly hurts.

No hoax intended!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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